My ears felt as though they had been stabbed with a knife.
"Catherine!" I screamed, twirling around from the sink where I was
"Mom, I have to practice my flute."
"Don't do it near me. I can't take it!"
Catherine was a proud new member of the sixth-grade band.
"Mom, did you ever have an instrument?" she asked.
"I played the piano a little, but I wasn't very good. And I was never
in the band."
"Well, everyone took a listening test, and then the students who did
the best got asked to be in the band. I wasn't asked."
"Well, I wasn't any good at piano," Catherine said. "And I can't sing.
But I'm glad I'm in the band, because I love my instrument. I like the way
the keys work, and the way you blow into it."
Indeed, during the first two days that she had her instrument,
Catherine did little more than go from room to room practicing blowing into
her flute and making the keys work. First there was no sound, and then the
nightmarish shrieks began. They exploded in our ears when we least
expected them. As she practiced, she had to stay on the move, because
wherever she went, people asked her to leave.
"Catherine, go outside and play your flute!"
"Outside?" she said doubtfully. "You don't think people would mind?"
Yes, they probably would. So we convinced her to practice in her
bedroom, with the door closed.
"It takes a lot of air to play," Catherine told me. "Mr. Bottomley
said there was one boy who blew so long that he passed out."
"Are you sure it wasn't his audience who passed out?" I asked.
Catherine smiled. She was proud of the power she wielded with her
instrument of torture. "I think I'll get earplugs for everyone for
Christmas," she said.
But as the weeks went by we either developed callouses on our eardrums
or Catherine started improving. We started letting her practice outside
When I came home from shopping, I heard notes drifting into the
backyard from an open window.
"Mom!" Catherine said with excitement as she met me in the kitchen.
"Could you tell what song I was playing?"
"Yes!" I said, plopping down the groceries. "'Three Blind Mice!'"
She was crestfallen. "No, it was 'Mary Had A Little Lamb!' Couldn't
you tell? Dad knew it."
"Well, it sounded pretty good," I said.
Six years ago, when my oldest was beginning to play the trombone we
wondered whether she would ever be able to play in public. I cannot
politely describe the sounds that exploded from her horn. The mating calls
of wild elephants were tame compared to her eruptions.
Because I've been through it before, I know that when we go to
Catherine's first band concert we will be amazed at how good the students
I, the tone-deaf mom with calloused eardrums, will be beaming like the
parents in "The Music Man!"
-- by Grace Witwer Housholder
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